I’m writing on behalf of my sister who is unbelievably unhappy and stressed out. The problem is not that she hates her job; it’s that she can’t seem to find a better one. She has sent her resume to several businesses and they never call for an interview. She has been job searching for years now and I can count on one hand how many interviews she’s been on. She has reworked and rewritten her resume several times, has tons of experience in just about all areas of human resources, and she has her master’s degree. Ninety-nine percent of the time she applies for jobs that she is completely qualified for and then they never call for an interview. What is she doing wrong? I can’t bear to go through another year looking at her disappointed face and seeing the life drain from her everyday.


While there are many unknown variables here in terms of your sister’s approach, I can share with you some strategies that may shift her thinking, action plan and results.

Let’s start with what she has going for her. First, she obviously has a sister who cares very much about her well-being and fulfillment. While that’s personally my favorite part about your question, your support is also a key to your sister’s job search success.

The more support you have with your job search, the more results you’ll achieve. Often people attempt to job hunt in a vacuum because they are embarrassed by the fact that they’re job searching in the first place. We all want to be that shining career superstar that companies seek out, but the reality is that very qualified people need to job hunt for one reason or another every day. Sometimes you just need to ask the people you know for the help you need.

I was at a networking event where one woman stood up and said “Hi, I’m Mary Jane. I’m unemployed and I’m looking for a job, so if you have any leads, contacts or opportunities, please come and see me during the break.” Fearless, and, as it turns out, effective. She waltzed out of that meeting with two part-time offers and announced two months’ later that she had landed the perfect full-time job with benefits. She created all of this by simply asking for support.

Who does your sister know? Past employers, colleagues, friends, other moms at her kids’ school? Has she been upfront about the fact that she wants to make a change with the people in her life? For every someone she knows, that person knows someone. Tell her to take these folks out for coffee and explain to them what she’s looking for, why, and what a new opportunity would create in her life.

After we had children, my husband was ready to make a career change, as the long hours he was used to were not conducive to being around to see our kids grow up. After the usual (and necessary) hit parade (update resume, call headhunters, search listings) he promptly called on his friends and colleagues.

One friend worked for the government and kept an eye on new job openings that were a potential fit. He dialed up an old boss in a new industry who gave him a list of ten different personal leads to call on. Then he chatted with an old friend from childhood about what he was ultimately looking for that he hadn’t found in his previous work (beyond the hours issue). Less than a year later, he took a position with that friend’s company and has been there ever since in a career that fits him (and out family) perfectly.

What about networking? Does your sister connect with other people at monthly networking events? Has she leveraged her profile online via Facebook, Linked In or other sites where people exchange information and contacts? Tomorrow’s real world interview often begins with today’s virtual connection.

It’s easy to get distracted and drained by the daily grind, so she may just need an accountability partner to do what she says she’s going to do. Could you two get together every two weeks to check in on who she’s called, how many resumes she has sent out and to whom, what follow-up she’s done or needs to do, and other strategizing?

When you have a support partner during your job search, it helps you to think more creatively and strategically than you would on your own. While I loathe people who tell you to think “outside of the box” (and I silently pray that after using that over-used expression, the speaker will crawl into a box and close the lid), you do need to expand your thinking beyond typical job search strategies.

I recall the story of a guy who was downsized a while back. The problem was that he had just super-sized his life with a big mortgage and a new baby. So he looked up the names of every software company CEO in the tri-state area, printed off 1,000 copies of his resume, ordered a bunch of pizzas, and invited his friends over to stuff envelopes. Each friend put a yellow sticky note on the resume with a hand-written note reading “You should check this out” with their initials. Numerous interviews and 13 job offers later, he went to work for Microsoft and has been there ever since.

Tell your sister to create a website with her resume, photo, quotes from previous employers or satisfied clients about her performance, “case study” examples of how she tackled a project or left a situation better than she found it, and contact information. Or, tell her to send her resume in a creative package. Since she’s in HR, perhaps a file folder with a label that reads “HR Director Search – Top Candidate” would distinguish her resume from the pack.

It goes without saying that what I’m recommending is above and beyond the basics. I’m assuming your sister has gone online to job sites and read articles about the “top ten mistakes people make on their resumes” or “the top five interview blunders to avoid.” These online articles can help her to identify where she may be making less obvious mistakes.

Maybe her resume is focused on job duties instead of results, or maybe she’s attaching her resume as a Word document (which people are hesitant to open) instead of a PDF. Maybe her Masters degree leads potential employers to assume she’s over-qualified and that they won’t be able to afford her salary requirements or keep her challenged, but there are ways to combat both in her resume language and cover letter.

How about her interviewing approach? While being ten minutes early for an interview reads “organized,” an hour early reads “desperate.” Is she negative in her comments about her current boss or job situation? Is she sure to follow-up with hand-written thank you notes to the interviewer?

In addition to everything else your sister likely has going on in her life, job hunting can feel like one more drain on her time and energy…but nothing will drain her more than another day of feeling stuck. A reasonable, creative and consistent action plan is essential to her success, as is the support of a sister like you.